Ex-Google engineer charged in Uber self-driving theft case
SAN JOSE, Calif.
A former Google engineer was charged Tuesday with stealing self-driving car technology from the company shortly before he joined Uber’s efforts to catch up in the high-stakes race to build robotic vehicles.
The indictment filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Jose, Calif., is an offshoot of a lawsuit filed in 2017 by Waymo, a self-driving car pioneer spun off from Google. Uber agreed to settle the case for $245 million last year, but the presiding judge made an unusual recommendation to open a criminal probe after seeing enough evidence to conclude a theft may have occurred.
Uber considered having self-driving technology crucial to survive and counter potential competitive threats from Waymo and dozens of other companies working on robotic vehicles. Uber wants to build self-driving cars so it can eliminate the need to have a human behind the wheel, one of the biggest expenses in its still-unprofitable ride-hailing service.
Anthony Levandowski, a pioneer in robotic vehicles, was charged with 33 counts of trade secrets theft. Each count carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or $8.25 million if convicted of all counts.
Miles Ehrlich, one of Levandowski’s attorneys, maintained his innocence in a statement.